Air Mattresses: What To Know Before You Buy

Last-minute guests? You need a temporary bed that's easy to store once they leave, so use this guide to decide which air mattress is right for you.

When friends or family come for the weekend, it’s nice to offer them a more comfortable option than a tiny couch or lumpy pull-out bed.

A quality air mattress ensures your guests sleep soundly while giving you the flexibility to pack it away when it’s not in use. It’s perfect for multipurpose rooms that need to easily transform from a work- or learn-from-home space to a guest bedroom. The best air mattresses are supportive, easy to inflate and deflate, and store easily.

Types of Air Mattresses

Air mattresses come in various sizes but can be categorized into three main types: double-height, self-inflating and convertible. The more comfort features an air mattress includes, the higher the price tag.

Raised air mattress

In the past, air mattresses were typically 10 inches thick or less, or what we now call single-high air mattresses. Today, the majority of air mattresses are raised (double-high) or thicker than 10 inches.

A raised air mattress feels more like a traditional mattress because it sits higher off the ground. This also makes it an excellent option for long-term or older guests who may struggle getting in and out of a single-high air mattress.

Self-inflating air mattress

Gone are the days of blowing up an air mattress yourself or with a foot pump. Today’s self-inflating air mattresses save time and breath!

As their name suggests, they feature an internal pump that inflates with the click of a button or turn of a knob. Unlike external pumps, which are usually sold separately and come with parts that are easily lost, internal pumps are self-contained and less of a hassle.

Self-inflating mattresses can be set up in less than five minutes. However, they’re more expensive than manually-inflated or external-pump air mattresses.

Adjustable/convertible air mattress

Most air mattresses can be adjusted by adding or removing air, but some actually feature firmness settings. For a little extra money, you can purchase a remote-controlled mattress that lets you adjust the firmness while you’re laying on it. This option is perfect for couples or anyone with frequent aches and pains.

Air Mattress Features

When shopping for an air mattress, consider these features:

Materials

Most air mattresses are made of polyvinyl chloride, better known as PVC. It’s flexible, waterproof, readily available and affordable. Some feature similar synthetic materials like urethane plastic or thermoplastic polyurethane. These are much tougher, however, you’ll pay for that durability.

Some luxury air mattresses come with memory foam toppers and flocked tops (made of velour or velvet) that prevent slipping. These also make the mattress harder to puncture while insulating the bed from a cool floor.

Ease of storage

Many people purchase air mattresses as temporary solutions for accommodating short-term guests, settling into a new home or for camping. In these instances, the air mattress must be light, portable and easy to store. Look for air mattresses that come with a storage bag that also holds all their parts.

Integrated pillow and air chambers

Beyond thickness and size, some air mattresses come with support features that make them more like real mattresses. And some feature a built-in pillow, which is mighty convenient.

The most supportive air mattresses offer vertical air chambers or coils inside. These chambers evenly distribute weight so the mattress doesn’t sag or move throughout the night. This feature costs more but may be worth it when more than one person sleeps on the same air mattress.

Never-flat second pump

The most common complaint about air mattresses? They deflate while you sleep. No one likes waking up on the floor.

Newer, pricier models now come with a dual pump. While one pump inflates and deflates the bed on demand, the second monitors and maintains a constant pressure all night long.

How To Choose an Air Mattress

When selecting an air mattress, ask yourself these questions:

  • How often will it be used?
  • How many guests does it need to accommodate?
  • What’s my budget?
  • How much space do I have to store this mattress?
  • Who will be sleeping on this? Kids? Pets? The elderly?

Alex Savy, a certified sleep science coach and founder of SleepingOcean, calls preparation the key to ensuring a good night’s sleep on an air mattress. He suggests adding a mattress topper, quality bedding and sleep aids such as blankets, sleeping bags and body pillows.

And be mindful of hard surfaces, like the ground outside or hardwood or tile floors inside, which can disrupt quality sleep. “Hard surfaces make air mattresses feel very rigid,” he says. “But using a gentle-feel surface like a rug or mat would make the air mattress feel more natural.”

Mackenzie Edwards
In addition to her work with Family Handyman, Mackenzie is a contributing commerce writer for Bustle Digital Group's lifestyle sites. She also owns and operates a copywriting studio in Nashville, TN. Mackenzie is an avid DIYer, sharing her budget-friendly home improvement hacks with her growing social media and blog audience.